Verotoxigenic Escherichia coli strains have been related with waterborne outbreaks. Besides 0157:H7, several serotypes of E. coli and other enterobacteria have been implicated in outbreaks and reported to carry the shiga toxin genes. Shiga toxins, stx1 and stx2, are important virulence factors of these strains. These genes have been linked to bacteriophages and consequently are susceptible to lateral transmission. To better understand the ecology of these genes a study of the presence of the shiga toxin 2 gene (stx2) among coliform bacteria present in sewage samples was carried out. A procedure based on colony hybridisation was developed for the isolation of enterobacteria carrying this gene. Colony growth on Chromocult® agar was transferred to a membrane and hybridised with a gene specific probe. The procedure allowed detection of about one colony carrying the gene among around 1,000 faecal coliform colonies. The numbers of bacteria carrying the gene in sewage were also estimated by PCR indicating that the numbers of bacteria carrying the stx2 gene were about 1/1,000 faecal coliforms. The detected numbers by both methods were similar. Positive colony hybridisation was detected in four sewage origins. Fifty-two colonies showing positive signal were isolated from the Chromocult® agar plates, confirmed to be stx2 positive by PCR and phenotypically characterised. Results of the characterisation showed certain diversity among the isolates even in isolates from the same sample. Most of these isolates would not have been isolated with the methods regularly used for the isolation of E. coli 0157:H7 strains. The method will allow study of the numbers and characteristics of bacteria carrying the stx2 gene in different water environments and isolate them in order to determine their role in the spread of the gene.

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